FOR 20 years it’s been a £130m plan to transform a historic Hampshire city and bring in thousands of new jobs.

And now the final hurdle holding up the Silver Hill scheme in Winchester appears to have gone.

The developer has reached a deal with a rival landowner to buy its part of the city centre site.

Henderson Global Investors and its partner Winchester City Council have reached an agreement with London and Henley to acquire its holdings.

It means Winchester would have a shopping district to challenge its neighbours, like WestQuay in Southampton, Festival Place, Basingstoke and Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth.

It is unknown exactly how many jobs will be provided but the site is already in demand from big businesses.

Sainsbury’s is one of the first companies to sign up – agreeing a pre-letting for a 25-year lease on a 18,500 sq ft store.

As reported by the Daily Echo last month, Henderson is now planning to submit a revised planning application, creating more space for shops and dropping the replacement bus station. It says the scheme will remain broadly the same.

Should it be approved without issue, the first spade could hit the ground as soon as later this year.

Initial planning consent was granted in 2008 under a different developer, Thornfield.

A compulsory purchase order had been approved last March but London and Henley was resisting the development and a hearing in the High Court was due to have been held.

Now Henderson and L&H have agreed an undisclosed deal to buy Kings Walk Parade, the Antiques Market and the former Post Office buildings.

Henderson has also completed the purchase of 158-160 and 163-165 High Street, which will be one of the main entrances into the site that lies between The Broadway and Friarsgate.

Keith Wood, pictured left, leader of Winchester City Council, said: “The deal with London and Henley is a very significant milestone in the Silver Hill story, and I am delighted that we have reached a point where work on the scheme is planned to begin this year.

“The development has been a long time in the making and Winchester should be proud that, despite the recent economic times, developers have retained their faith in Winchester and are preparing to revitalise a neglected area of the city.”

Martin Perry, development director at Henderson, said: “We continue to be encouraged by the strong support that we have received from the local community, ranging from the business community to the City of Winchester Trust.

“The deal with London and Henley represents a significant milestone for the Silver Hill project, opening the way for development to commence.”

MMX Retail is acting as retail consultants and says demand from retailers is “extremely strong.”

The council is keen to stress that it sees the new application as a relatively minor revision and not a green light for new ideas. Henderson recently opposed M&S plans for a new food store on Easton Lane, Winnall. The city council rejected the M&S proposal.